"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Fear of Failure

Chalk Up Another Victory for the Cats!

Well, to follow up yesterdays "cats versus dogs" post, I have to report that the cats won again.  A couple of puppies yipped and jumped with new ideas, but the cats simply looked on with a complete lack of comprehension of what they were so excited about.

"Silly dogs," they said.  "Wasting all that energy and enthusiasm coming up with new ideas when we have a perfectly serviceable plan already in place."

"But our old ideas aren't getting the same great results any more," complained one pup. "Why not try something new?"

"It would be fiscally irresponsible," yawned one cat. "The old plan still brings in some money.  What will happen if we abandon it and then the new plan doesn't work out?"

"But what if the new plan could bring in lots more money?"

"What if it doesn't? We can't take that chance. Besides, we already know how to do this one." (Cat licks paw.)

"OK," said another old cat. "Here's an idea that we tried several years ago.  Let's try it again."

"Did it work the last time?" (Dog looks worried.)

"Well, no, but we can try it again.  At least it's nothing new."

"Would it cost us money up front?"  (Pant! Pant!)

"Uh, I don't know.  It might. We can wait a while and see."

"But if we're going to do that, we need to get started right away." (Dog is ready to run.)

"Nah. We already know how to do it.  It won't take very long to set it up. Let's wait for another three months to decide." (Cat curls up to take a nap.)

"Hey!" said the pup. "What about the new idea we tried last month?  It brought in lots of money, didn't it? Can we do that again?  Can we? Huh?"

"Well, maybe," said head cat, "although we can't rely on new idea to keep on being a good idea."

"Right," said another cat. "People may not want to do the new thing again.  Let's stick with the old stuff."

"What a great meeting," said head cat. "We've decided to keep one old idea that brings in less money every year. We're going to bring back an old idea that failed before but might work this time. And maybe, if all goes well, we'll even try successful new idea once more."

Sigh! Does any of this sound familiar in your organization?  Have you found a way to quiet the fears of your cats and to encourage your dogs to innovate?





How To Guarantee Your Own Failure

When I was in graduate school, I knew several doctoral students who had been working on their degrees for more than the regulation ten years. They dawdled over finishing their course work.  They changed their dissertation topic. They had writers' block. They edited . . . and edited . . . and edited. They applied for extensions and took a year off to earn some real money. And why? Not because they were broke, and not because they didn't know their stuff. They dawdled because they were afraid of failure.

In my first tenure track college teaching job, I met a scholar -- a real scholar -- who was several years ahead of me in terms of experience.  He was writing what promised to be a really important book, but he couldn't get it finished. He wrote . . . and edited . . .  and re-wrote . . .and reorganized . . . and did some more research . . .and lost his job. He failed to get tenure because he had not published a single piece of original work. The last time I saw him, he was a paper-pusher in a huge government office, working in a small cubicle somewhere hidden in a huge windowless warehouse. And the light had gone out of his eyes.

The same unfortunate experience affects writers.  How many people do you know who say they are going to write a book but never start? How many others have a drawer stuffed with manuscripts that no one has ever read? How many spend years waiting for an agent to offer to represent them? And how many people actually publish a book and then never try to promote it? How many failed writers do you know?

It's a common human failing.  From an early age, we are taught to fear failure, and in too many cases, that translates into the faulty assumption that it is better not to try. You can't fail unless you take a risk, unless you try, unless you finish what you've started. Right? Wrong! You can't succeed unless you take a risk--try--finish.

I started this morning's rant because I came across this exchange between two members of a writer's group I follow.

Person # 1: "Does anyone know how to make your book the best seller on Amazon?" (Hidden attitude: "I can't do it.  There's a secret nobody is willing to share.")

 Person # 2: "Well, you can either: 1) Hire a marketing consultant to promote the book; 2) Learn how to market yourself by spending the necessary hundreds of hours reading material on the subject, attending seminars, webinars and the like, and working your butt off, the way the rest of us do; or 3) buy ten or twenty or fifty thousand copies yourself." ( Hidden attitude: "You're right. It's hopeless. It can't be done. It costs too much. There's no way.")

Person #3 (Me!): "My new book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: How to Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing, available on Amazon in both paper and Kindle editions, has several chapters on this very question. You may never crack the paper or hardback "best-seller" list, but you certainly can do so with a Kindle listing. And it doesn't take "hundreds of hours" or working your butt off. I sold over 47,000 copies of a novel with almost no effort, and I've taught several other people to do the same. It'll cost you less than $10.00 to find out how. Why are you still dawdling here on the internet? 

One of my favorite sayings came from a church sign: Don't tell the person who is doing something that it can't be done."